With two new county commissioners, one a veteran and the other a newcomer, and with a new city commissioner in Carrabelle, the face of political leadership in Franklin County is continuing to change.
While there is plenty to chew one with the election results, here are a few takeaways based on the numbers and on personal observation.
Franklin County is not purple, it’s not pink and it’s not turquoise. It’s as crimson as the red on the Seahawks’ uniforms.
With the exception of Precinct 3 in Apalachicola, which encompasses voters on the Hill, all the county’s precincts voted overwhelmingly Republican, ranging from 55 percent in the so-called silk stocking district to a high of 85 percent in the reddest of them all, Eastpoint. In fact, the GOP vote in Eastpoint was nearly 20 percentage points more than on St. George Island, the other half of County Commission District #1.
Voting on the two school tax measures on the ballot - renewal of the half-mill property tax and the debut of a new half-cent sales tax - showed that support for funding education in the county’s schools is pretty solid. The show of support for the new sales tax was about 12 percentage points below that of the property tax renewal countywide, but even it passed with more than 59 percent of county voters.
The strongest show of support came from the lone Democratic precinct, but even solidly Republican areas gave the property tax renewal 70 percent or better support, no doubt helped by a strong effort by Republican School Superintendent Steve Lanier to cast a convincing net over the “school” of fish in his own party.
When it comes to voting on whether to retain judges on the Florida Supreme Court and the District Court of Appeals, lots of voters would prefer not to get involved. About two-thirds of voters said they supported keeping them, but there were a large number of under votes, which means the voter chose not to cast a vote regarding that judge.
In most cases a political race has just a handful of undervotes; in the case of the judges, anywhere from 750 to close to 900 voters in these races went right on by. There were a sizable number of undervotes in the constitutional amendments and the school tax measures as well, but the rate for the judges was about double that.
As it stands now, based on results of the midterms, the only precinct that remains blue in Franklin County is #3, on the Hill, which voted anywhere from 52 to 60 percent in favor of the Democratic candidates, including a majority for both U.S. Rep. candidate Al Lawson and State Sen. Loranne Ausley.
One sign of a less than robust Democratic party in the county is the fact that the party’s lone local party hopeful, incumbent county commissioner Smokey Parrish, didn’t secure a dime of financial support from the Democratic Executive Committee. His opponent, Republican Ottice Amison, secured a $2,500 donation from the Franklin County Republican Committee.
It is also worth noting that #3, the most heavily Democratic precinct in the county, also had the lowest turnout, at 62 percent, six percentage points below the county as a whole.
Dating back to the first time an oysterman lifted out a tong lick from Apalachicola Bay, the issue of keeping the bay a robust source of seafood industry jobs has been used to burnish a politician’s down-home credentials. Democratic governor Lawton Chiles, and Republicans Charlie Crist, Jeb Bush and Rick Scott, plus Democratic senator Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio each made it a point of coming down and declaring their love for the hard-working men and women who fish.
This year, though, even with a rare rally of Republican statewide hopefuls in Franklin County on the eve of the election, there was not a peep made about fishing in general or the bay in particular from any of the comments. The issues that drive voters have quickly become national in scope, and one casualty has been a focus by the electorate on the rise, and fall, of the seafood industry.
During a time in this country when the tension of partisanship with state and federal elections is at fever pitch, the supervisor of elections office is setting an example the state as a whole would be wise to follow. A former Democrat turned Republican, Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley decided to run without party affiliation in 2016, when she won her first term. Four years later she continued that status, and was unopposed, a testament to the faith voters had in her competence and fairness. These recent midterms ran smoothly, without suspicion or rancor, and the non-partisan example Riley and her staff has set would be a good template for the rest of the state, and even the nation, to emulate.
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